Bathroom Safety for the Disabled and the Elderly

non slip floorBathrooms at home usually need adaptation if an elderly or disabled wants to stay in the house and remain independent. Ensuring bathroom access and safety may require room customisation.

Falls often happen as people get in or out of the bathtub. Non-slip suction mats or non-skid tub liners or stickers can help prevent falls and provide firm footing.

Grab bars around the tub are a must for safety. These bars should be institutional-grade and installed according to the manufacturer’s directions for firm and solid support. Using towel rods in place of them is strongly discouraged. Improperly installed bars, as well, will not support a person who loses balance.

Various types of bars and poles are available from plumbing supply companies. The type, number, and positioning of supports depend on:

  • The wall space around the tub;
  • The wall structure;
  • The plumbing arrangements; and
  • The disability of the person using the tub.

Two kinds of grab bars are often needed at the bathtub for the disabled or elderly:

1. For use in getting in and out of the tub from a standing position;

2. For use when lowering and raising the body to and from a seated position in the tub.

U-shaped bars are available in 12- to 40-inch lengths. They may be installed vertically or horizontally to a wall.

A vertically placed U-bar, attached to the side wall at the foot of the tub, allows safe entry and exit. Note that the foot of the tub is the end where the water faucets and drain are located. This vertical bar should be about 32 inches long, and placed near the edge of the outer tub.

Horizontally placed support bars are best for lowering and raising the body to and from a sitting position in the tub. A 12- to 15-inch bar may be placed at the foot end of the tub and a longer one along the back wall.

Diagonally placed grab bars are not recommended because the hand may slide; and if footing is not secure, falls are more likely to occur.

If the tub is free-standing at both ends, like in most older homes, and the end wall is too far for grab bars to be secured, a vertically placed pole on the access side of the tub may be used. This pole should be about 1.5 inches in diameter and extend from floor to ceiling. Place it between 1 foot 3 inches to 1 foot 6 inches from the end of the tub, close enough to the access side to reach from a sitting position. It also can be used to grasp with one hand while operating the water controls.

Angle bars from the back wall or behind the tub to the floor, with wall posts, may be used when one or both tub ends are enclosed by a wall. This is useful for persons needing to use both hands to enter and exit the tub.

A variety of portable seats, chairs, and benches are also available if sitting on the bathtub floor is difficult or impossible. One seat has side flanges that adjust to fit any bathtub. Inside-the-tub chairs with backs for greater comfort are also sold in the market today. An inside/outside transfer bench with adjustable legs allows the person to sit on the bench that extends outside the tub then slide to the inside of the tub.

Any chair or bench must have non-slip rubber tips and should be safe and comfortable. When using this type of seats in the tub, a hand-held shower head is preferable to use.

An angle bar attached to two walls provides support while standing, and also aids in sitting and rising from a bath bench or chair.

If the shower floor is slippery, non-slip suction mats or rubber silicone treads should also be used there.

A non-skid bath mat on the floor outside the shower is a necessity.

The standard 15- to 17-inch height of toilet seats creates a problem for many people, especially those with arthritis, hip, knee or back problems. Elevating the seat 5-7 inches more will give better leverage in regaining a standing position.

There are several types of removable and permanently fixed raised toilet seats available in stores. For a more permanent raised toilet, a plumber can put the stool on a wooden platform made to fit the toilet bowl base. If you are building a new bathroom, consider a wall-hung toilet that can be hung at any height.

A portable bidet for cleaning the perineal area without hands or paper may be attached to any standard toilet bowl. It is electrically powered with a mechanism for spray washing with warm water and drying with a flow of warm air. This promotes independence for persons with very limited hand/arm functions.

Grab bars around the toilets are a must. Many types are available, and the choice will depend on:

  • Available wall space near the toilet;
  • Nearness to other fixtures in the room; and
  • Needs of people in the household.

If you have a physical limitation, we recommend you consult a physical therapist or a housing specialist to help you select and recommend placement of grab bars and other accessories for safety in the bathroom. If you are unsure of your wall structure, or do not have proper tools or skills, we suggest you hire a carpenter to install and/or make the new adaptations.

And for the latest bathroom and toilet aids for the disabled and the elderly, click here.

2 thoughts on “Bathroom Safety for the Disabled and the Elderly

  1. Good tips. Walk-in baths are often a good addition to have for an accessible bathroom, but they are expensive. So anything you can do to make it safer and more accessible without having to replace your bath is great.

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